Thursday, 6 March 2014
Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I spoke about the Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 previously in the chamber when it was under another title, before there were slightly amended provisions put into it. I do have some experience with this. We all know that the use of coal seam gas as an energy source is longstanding and accounts for 33 per cent of the eastern states' domestic gas production. For example, 90 per cent of gas used in Queensland comes from CSG. CSG powers a number of domestic electricity generation projects throughout Queensland, including the Origin Energy operated Darling Downs Power Station and the Braemar 2 power station. The policy challenge for state governments is twofold: firstly, to ensure the appropriate compensation of landholders for access and use of their land and, secondly, to ensure that coal seam gas is exploited on behalf of its citizens—unlocking an important transitional fuel, providing an important source of employment and export income, and generating a long-term revenue source through royalties and rents. This bill seeks to shift from a state-based system that ensures proper, and if necessary judicially determined, compensation for affected landholders to a Commonwealth-imposed system that transfers 'all power' to the rights of landowners, at the expense of all citizens.
Coal seam gas exploration represents an immense opportunity for Australia, particularly regional Australia. It is in these regions and we need to generate employment. I am sure that many of the senators in the chamber would accept this as being a fact. LNG projects in Queensland and the CSG to LNG conversion industry are worth more than $70 billion and are responsible for almost 30,000 jobs. We know Queensland, my home state, is an area that needs jobs—with the state Liberal-National Party government having terminated thousands of jobs in the state there is an obvious need for the generation of more employment in this area to replace those jobs that have gone. Unfortunately, and sadly, the unemployment rate in Queensland has now increased to 6.1 per cent—one of the highest in this country—as result of the actions of the LNP government in Queensland. We had doctors up there, just last night, rallying about their employment conditions and being forced onto individual contracts. Some 900 doctors attended a rally at the Pineapple Hotel on the south-side as a result of the actions of the LNP government. But, I digress.
The policy challenges for the Commonwealth are to ensure more gas production and the best possible level of environmental protection. In Queensland, since December 2013 there have been 4,037 voluntary land access agreements signed between gas companies and landholders. Queensland land access laws provide landholders with protection and security in relation to secure exploration and development activities, including coal seam gas activities being undertaken on their land. The laws ensure that the landholders are fairly compensated for activities on their land and resource companies must minimise the impact of existing operations. The resources industry in Queensland must comply with the Queensland Land Access Code, which outlines the Queensland government's expectations of how resource companies communicate and consult with landholders and how they behave while on a landholders property. I appreciate that this is a vexing issue. In fact, on my travels throughout the state, I have had discussions with landholders and groups about that. What I have found as a result of those discussions and communications is that there is a lot of misinformation.
One of the things we did well when we were in government, in partnership with the previous Labor state government, was to make contributions towards research and science—Senator Waters touched on science. Science is an important issue affecting the environment and it should never be dismissed or discounted. In July 2011, I was fortunate enough to be present at the launch of the Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance, a partnership of the CSIRO in Queensland and Australian Pacific LNG. We, along with the state Labor government, at the time contributed $14 million over the next five years for funding research into the social, economic and environmental impacts of the natural gas industry. We need to make sure there are further opportunities for this sort of contribution so we can better understand the science behind these matters. There is not much point in dismissing the science and having a view that something else applies. It is important to listen to those who are expert in these areas to make sure their point of view is heard.
The University of Queensland has recently released findings of research, incorporating a recent survey conducted by Nielsen covering 1,700 residents in the Greater Brisbane area—I am sure there will be further surveys conducted out in the regions to get a better understanding of the concerns expressed by those people who live in regional Australia. It is clear from the findings of the research and the survey conducted that there is a lack of information and a lack of understanding by people in regard to what CSG is about, and the impact it has not only on their communities but also on the environment. I want to touch on some of the findings. Firstly, most people who responded were aware that coal, iron-ore and gold were mined in Australia—that is a given; most people would realise that—but only 70 per cent of people were aware that CSG was extracted and most of them needed prompting on this to get a true understanding of what their concerns were. With regard to attitudes, and this is where the rubber hits the road, people who indicated that they knew a lot about CSG were more likely to indicate it was having a positive impact on Queenslanders. People who only had a little bit of knowledge of CSG were more likely to indicate that it was having a negative impact on Queenslanders. Unfortunately, people's perspectives were being encouraged or driven by the stories in the media. You would know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that sometimes the media has the ability to influence people's views about what is happening in their communities and in their environment, and without the knowledge of the science behind it to back up they do not really understand what the facts are on particular issues such as coal seam gas or other matters that affect our environment.
People also have a strong view about farmers' rights and what the government does with the royalties on coal seam gas. In my travels to western Queensland, I found that it is one of the areas that is a bit of a myth as well. People were unclear about what happens with royalties. In many cases, a farmer might release some information on the royalties they have been receiving on their land, and then the neighbouring farmer or someone down the road might find that being less or greater on their land, depending on the size of the extraction. This is where the confusion and misunderstanding arise of what generates fair compensation on the farmer's behalf in respect to what sort of extractions and issues are being generated on their land.
With respect to knowledge, people were generally uninformed about coal seam gas but were interested in learning more. In fact, during the campaign of the federal election, I remember having a discussion with a gentleman up in Bowen. At that particular time, there were concerns around that township about the Abbott Point coalmining port. This particular gentleman, at the time of our discussion, was relating stories about earthquakes as a result of coal seam gas extraction. I have heard media reports on that sort of issue associated with the United States, but I have not yet heard of any issues associated with extraction from Queensland or other parts of our country where there have been earthquakes associated with the extraction of coal seam gas. This is just another example of how misinformation gets out into the public. As you know, someone will tell someone else that story and then it turns into something even greater, but it is important that people rely on the facts and the science when it comes to these issues.
When it came to trust—and this is my point about ensuring that science and, particularly, organisations like the CSIRO are trusted and competent enough to provide this information—people indicated in the survey that the CSIRO and universities were seen as the most trustworthy providers of information on coal seam gas. It is important that this parliament continues to fund the CSIRO to make sure that the science is available and the facts are forthcoming to everyone to make sure that we know what is happening out there.
I can only relate furthermore in regards to my travels last year, when I went out beyond Roma to Miles on an RDA Fund release that I was involved in on behalf of the minister in that particular part of the world. Driving out through that area, you notice a lot of four-wheel-drive vehicles—particularly at the airport when you fly into Roma—and no doubt there is an exploitation increase in these areas to make sure that employment is generated to ensure that these regions are kept viable and alive, and it is important that we do not discount this and affect their conditions or turn them into ghost towns.
In conclusion, I think we need to have a look at the science behind these particular matters and make sure that we communicate with the communities in these areas so that they have the right information, the understanding and the facts to ensure that their communities are being served well and are looked after by, in this case, the state governments that are responsible for this particular area and ensuring that their jurisdictions are upheld. That is why we, on this side of the chamber, are opposed to this particular bill.